BENNINGTON -- A local man has taken second place in an international "hackathon" competition, by creating a data visualization showing how likely Facebook users are to have their accounts accessed by their governments.
Anselm "Ans" Bradford graduated from Mount Anthony Union High School in 1997. He entered the Google-sponsored EU hack-athon competition in June as a solo team, and ultimately was the only person from the United States chosen for the competitive spot.
The theme of the Hack4YourRights contest was to visualize government surveillance activities and thereby increase awareness and transparency.
"I was surprised to hear that I was chosen. I just had an idea and put that into the running," said Bradford.
His idea earned him a roundtrip ticket to Google headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, where he ultimately was the only single-entrant to place in the competition, and received a trophy presented at the European Parliament last month.
Born and raised in Bennington, as his mother says, Bradford is currently a 2013 Fellow with Code for America, a nonprofit that places teams of technologists at city governments around the country in an effort to improve their technologies and relationships with citizens.
Currently Bradford is based in San Francisco, and is one of only 28 Fellows, under the direction of Jennifer Pahlka, founder of the nonprofit and currently Deputy Chief Technology Officer for the U.S.
For his project, he used Facebook's public Transparency Report and developed a website in an all-night 24-hour race among 20 teams, many which had up to five people contributing.
"By the end of that first night the pressure was on. I didn't have anything," said Bradford. "I just worked on the concept and then finally was able to get in the zone with it."
Working through an optional four-hour break, Bradford finished his project by the deadline and pitched it to the judges on the second day, all without sleeping. "They said they felt the project was clear and focused, and was in line with what I had tried to accomplish."
After building his first website as a junior in high school, Bradford went on to graduate from the College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, Maine, and received his Master's degree in photography and visual communication from Ohio University.
"He's what they call a ‘coder,'" said his mother, Harda Bradford, who was amazed to hear her son had entered, and won.
"We didn't even grasp that this was a big deal," she said.
Undecided if he will return to the island country, Bradford said his experiences with web design and coding have made him excited about the possibilities ahead.
His mother Harda and father Stuart still reside in Bennington, since moving to the area from Boston in 1975.
"He's a Bennington boy and he's also on the map now," said Harda.
"As much as I know young people around the world are capable of hacking into computers, I know you need people like Ans, to not only do that also, but be able to block it," she said.
As for how likely we are to be hacked by our government - the United States came in second only behind Malta, where for residents it will take only 19 years before they surpass a 1 percent probability of having their Facebook account details handed over to the government.
"It illuminated that the chance of having your account accessed is relatively low," said Bradford, based on the discrepancy between number of citizens and active Facebook users.
In the United States it will take 51 years for residents to surpass the 1 percent probability, followed by Italy at 95 years.
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